Majority of Manitoba homicide victims are Indigenous men, but 'it's not really talked about': advocate

Victims of homicide in Manitoba this year have predominantly been Indigenous men, according to new statistics released by the RCMP.

RCMP say 15 of 21 people killed in Manitoba outside Winnipeg so far this year were Indigenous males

Jordan Wade Batenchuk, 24, was stabbed to death in Poplar River in May 2019. He was among the 21 people who have been killed in Manitoba outside Winnipeg this year, 15 of whom were Indigenous males. (Jane Mitchell/Facebook)

Jane Mitchell's son became part of what she calls an upsetting and disturbing trend in Manitoba this year.

Jordan Wade Batenchuk, Mitchell's son, was killed in Poplar River in late May.

He's one of 21 people who have been killed this year in Manitoba outside the city of Winnipeg — and one of the 15 Indigenous males in that group, according to RCMP statistics.

The loss of her son is "getting harder and harder every day," Mitchell says — but she has a clear view on why she thinks Indigenous men are being killed in such comparatively high numbers, and what needs to be done.

"I feel it is all gang-related," she said. "More has to be done, and a stronger justice against the ones that do the crime."

Of the 21 homicide victims in Manitoba this year, 19 have been male, RCMP said — and 15, or 71 per cent of all victims, have been Indigenous males.

"That's a little bit of a higher rate at this point," said Cpl. Laura Ledrew, with the RCMP missing and exploited persons unit.

Cpl. Laura Ledrew is with the Manitoba RCMP's missing and exploited persons unit. She says the homicide rate among Indigenous men is high in comparison to that for non-Indigenous males. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

In 2018, there were 36 homicides in Manitoba outside Winnipeg, Ledrew says. The 28 male victims last year included 22 who were Indigenous, accounting for 61 per cent of all homicide victims.

In 2017, there were 21 homicides in total, including 18 males — 12 of whom were Indigenous, making up 57 per cent of the victims that year.

"What we have found is that from 2007 to the present, the rate for homicides among Indigenous males [compared with non-Indigenous males] has stayed about the same," Ledrew said.

"We police a very large area, and a large area that we police are on First Nation communities," Ledrew said. "And most of our homicides occur in the north." 

The numbers collected do not include homicides in the city of Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Police Service would not release any data to CBC about the homicide rate among Indigenous men in the city.

Mother blames gangs for son's killing

Mitchell said she believes her son's death in Poplar River was gang-related, but that hasn't been confirmed by police.

"I feel like gangs have to be stopped or put away," she said. "It is very scary when you know there's people out there that can do that to another person."

Her son Jordan, 24, was stabbed and beaten to death in Poplar River, a First Nations community about 350 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on May 31.

He left behind a wife and four small children.

Jordan Wade Batenchuk is seen here on his wedding day. He was stabbed to death in Poplar River on May 31. (Jane Mitchell/Facebook)

RCMP said a 20-year-old man has been charged with manslaughter in connection with his death. His case is still before the courts. Two others were arrested but were released without charges.

Mitchell says her son loved his wife and children, and rarely drank. She says he was not involved with gangs, but she believes he got into a dispute with the wrong group of people the night he was killed. 

"He stood up to one of them," she said. "He died in front of his wife."

She said another man in the community was killed this year, and those homicides have left many people on edge.

'It's not really talked about'

When it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous men in Canada, "predominantly, it's not really talked about," said Alaya McIvor, a survivor of sex trafficking who is now an advocate for exploited people.

She works with agencies across the country to help identify human trafficking in their regions, and acts as an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and men.

Alaya McIvor is survivor of exploitation and an advocate for exploited youth. She says more awareness is needed to deal with the high homicide rate for Indigenous men across the country. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"It's been talked about among the grassroots community that the numbers are high," McIvor said. "So how do we champion, and how do we support [efforts to stop] that?"

McIvor says there are many possible reasons for the high numbers of Indigenous men who are homicide victims, "whether it's historical or trauma or looking for a sense of belonging for Indigenous men and boys," she said.

A common issue, she says, is "looking for acceptance and belonging which is based around gang [affiliation], which we all know leads to death."

McIvor has also lost loved ones to violence. Her uncle, Wayne McIvor, was killed 35 years ago. Her nephew Jordan McIvor, 19, was stabbed to death in 2010.

"My nephew was fully involved in the gang life, and that's one of the conversations I've had now with my nieces and nephews consistently.… Don't follow in those footsteps, 'cause that's going to lead you to death."

There have been some positive awareness campaigns in Canada for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, but McIvor says the homicide rate among Indigenous men is troubling and should be talked about more.

"We talk a lot about exploitation but again, that gap is [overlooked] when it comes to men and boys," she said.

"Those conversations need to flourish within our community."